Winter Adventures in the City

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Christmastime in Union Square!

Unfortunately last month, my laziness got the better of me, hence no posts in December. Sorry. ūüė¶ However, the lack of posts is not an accurate indication of my activities this past month. December was filled with holiday parties, fun adventures in the city, and lots and lots of shopping! I also got to spend time with my family and friends – they’re what make the holidays so special.

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December was also filled with a bunch of firsts, including running my first half-marathon! I’m so glad I live with runners. I’ve always wanted to run a half-marathon, but never had enough self-motivation to do it until now (thanks to the support of my housemates!). Although running for two hours straight is not the most enjoyable activity, I had a blast and can’t wait to do another one!

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My first half-marathon medal! Hopefully more to come!

The day of the half-marathon also happened to be Santacon, an annual event that happens in SF in which thousands of people dress up like Santa or other holiday objects. It’s basically a huge Santa-themed bar crawl. I couldn’t miss out on participating, so after spending two hours running, my housemates and I dressed up like Santa and went out into the city.

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In front of City Hall, on the way to Polk St for Santacon!

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My friends and I celebrating Santacon!

Even though the weather is much colder and cooler in December, I’ve recently realized that December is one of my favorite months. Although the holiday decorations are beautiful and the holiday spirit is so warm and infectious, it’s really the time we spend with our loved ones that make the holiday season so special. I had so many fun adventures this past December with both friends and family and I’ve learned that it’s really the people who you’re with that make each and every experience worthwhile.

October Fun in the City – Indulging in Childhood Fun

Beautiful view of San Francisco from Dolores Park

October was a month filled with a few life changes, new experiences, and tons of fun adventures in the city! All throughout October, it was Indian Summer in the Bay Area, which meant that the weather every weekend was absolutely gorgeous! Obviously, I had to go out to the city to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather! Luckily, there is always something fun going on in San Francisco.

Listening to The Head and The Heart at Hardly Strictly!

The first weekend in October was one of the busiest San Francisco has ever had. With Fleet Week, a post-season Giants game, and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival going on, it was estimated that a few million people came into the city that weekend! And you could definitely tell. The BART and buses were packed with people. My friends and I biked to Golden Gate Park, where Hardly Strictly was being held, and there were so many bikes parked there (some were even locked up to light poles) that we had to bike a mile further into the park just to find some open spots.

It was my first time attending Hardly Strictly and it won’t be my last! The free concert features bluegrass music, but also lots of other good music. We went to go see one of my favorite bands, The Head and the Heart. They were so good live! I had such a great time soaking up the rays of sunlight, jamming to some of my favorite songs, and enjoying the company of friends.

Looking out at the city and Pacific ocean from the top!

The next weekend, my friends and I ventured into the city to find the 16th street stairs that I had heard about through a friend and on Yelp. Leading to a very tall and steep hill in the Inner Sunset district of the city, these steps are decorated with small pieces of glass and tile to create beautiful mosaics of the sun, moon, and stars.

The famous 16th Avenue Mosaic Tiled Stairs

The following weekend was spent exploring the relatively new playground in Mission Dolores Park, which is a million times better than the playgrounds I grew up with. The playground is huge, with multiple slides, swingsets, and climbing things. It might seem a bit weird for a couple of 20-somethings to be playing in a playground, but we’re all kids at heart. With the difficulties we face as adults, sometimes it’s just nice to push all those troubles aside for a moment and pretend to be a kid again.

Dolores Park Playground

As I grow older, I’ve realized the world is really not as cut and dry or black and white, as we thought as children. With this realization, the world and people automatically become more complicated. Issues become more complex and one might realize that what he or she once thought were his or her beliefs may not actually be consistent with who he or she actually is or has become. Without us even realizing it, as adults, our actions have more weight and there is no longer anyone to tell us what is right or wrong or what we ought to do. Yes, friends and family can give you advice or help you think through and analyze¬†situations. But only you can make the decisions. That heaviness we feel with all of those decisions we have to make can be tiring and can make our shoulders and back sore. Sometimes, even for just a short moment, we need to cast off that boulder we carry and let go. Indulge in the lightness and freedom that we unknowingly enjoyed as kids. (But just for a few moments. After all, we’re now adults and have responsibilities. :P)

Playing like a kid with a giant parachute!

Perfect Fall Nails

Unfortunately, it’s finally starting to feel like fall here in the Bay Area. Our last few days of Indian Summer have gone and have been replaced by chilly, cloudy days (which means it’s in the high 50s to mid 60s… I know we’re spoiled here in California :P). Luckily, I was still able to enjoy those last few days outside, basking in the sun and taking in the breathtaking views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and that beautiful Bay. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of living in the Bay Area. Most people around here are natives and rarely ever leave the area. I can totally understand why.

Even though the leaves don’t change colors here like they do almost everywhere else in the country, I still decided to paint my nails appropriate for the new season.¬†I first saw this nail design on Pinterest and fell in love with it immediately. It’s super easy, so beautiful, and perfect for fall!

Here’s a link to the original design by Glitter and Nails.

Although I didn’t use exactly the same colors as she did, I think I did a pretty good job in recreating this nail design. If you’re looking for fun yet fairly easy nail art for the fall season, I’d definitely recommend trying this out. (However, be warned, the glitter will get everywhere. :P)

Even though it’s no longer Indian Summer here in the Bay Area, sometimes it’s nice to have a change in weather. It helps remind us that time is moving and life goes on.¬†It’d be nice to stay in summertime, but after a while, it’d get tiring right? (Well, to be honest, probably not haha). At least now, it feels more like November and the weather change makes me more excited about the upcoming holidays. Without changes in life, we’d get stuck in a routine of being simply content (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but may result in a life without excitement or spontaneity. I suppose I associate change with growth and so I think without change, we cannot grow. So here’s to a new season and a new round of experiences and growth.

Celebrating in SF – Giants Victory Parade and Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

Celebrating the Giants’ World Series Win in San Francisco

It was awesome living in the Bay Area this past week, with the Giants winning the World Series and the gorgeous weather. (Sorry, not trying to rub it in people’s faces or be insensitive, especially after Hurricane Sandy. My heart does go out to all the people affected by the natural disaster this past week.) Even though I’m not a huge baseball fan, I was excited to celebrate the Giants’ victory. So, I convinced two of my friends to skip school with me for a few hours to watch the victory parade last Wednesday. I figured it’d be ok to play hooky for a bit since it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity, even though the Giants won the World Series two years ago. ūüėõ

In the crowd of people trying to watch the parade

There were so many people celebrating at the parade. We got there about 30 minutes late and we were so far back in the crowd that we couldn’t see much, especially me (I was at least a foot too short). However, despite not being able to see much, I still had a great time. I love being around people who are excited and passionate about something. There’s something so exhilarating and addictive about their energy.¬†But after a while, since we couldn’t see much, my friends and I resorted to taking pictures of ourselves at the parade.

Might as well take pictures of us since we can’t see the players

Unfortunately, I don’t own any Giants gear, so to be festive for the parade and Halloween, I painted my nails orange and black.

Black and orange

I also decided to bake some cookies for Halloween. I spent a while perusing Halloween desserts on Pinterest and foodgawker, but couldn’t find a recipe that was fairly quick and easy. So I decided to just make something seasonal instead: pumpkin oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries (aka the longest cookie name)

These cookies were pretty easy and straightforward to make. However, just to warn you, this recipe makes a ton of cookies. I baked four cookie sheets worth of cookies and some of them were pretty big cookies. Since I ended up with so many cookies, I took a third of them to a Halloween potluck and another third to my lab. I left the remaining third at home for my roommates, with a cute little note wishing them Happy Halloween. At each location, people gobbled up the cookies extremely fast – so fast that within an hour or two, they were completely gone.

I tried to draw a vampire, but obviously failed ūüėõ

These cookies aren’t too sweet, even with the white chocolate and cranberries, which is refreshing compared to the sweet Halloween candy I’ve been eating lately. Unfortunately, the pumpkin is rather difficult to taste. I’d say these cookies taste more like spice cookies (with maybe a hint of pumpkin) than pumpkin cookies. Either way, they’re a perfect dessert to bring to an autumn party or just a sweet way to end dinner. These cookies will definitely get you in the mood for fall, if you aren’t already. And be warned, these cookies will be devoured extremely quickly.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate Chips and Dried Cranberries
Adapted from My Baking Addiction and Annie’s Eats

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¬ĺ tsp. ground ginger
¬ľ tsp. ground cloves
¬ľ tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter; softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
3. Beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in large mixer bowl until light and fluffy.
4. Add the pumpkin, egg and vanilla extract to the butter/sugar mixture and mix well.
5. Add the flour mixture and combine until all ingredients are incorporated.
6. Fold in the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.
7. Drop 1-2 tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets.
8. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Simple, Subtle Beauty – Rustic Fig Galette

I mentioned earlier that my aunt has a fig tree that has been very prolific this year. So prolific that one day, she gave me a whole box full of fresh figs! It was just like Christmas! With all of the fresh figs, I knew I wanted to bake something delicious. And I’ve been itching to make a galette, so it wasn’t hard to decide to bake a fig galette!

In my mind, a galette is a lazy person’s version of pie. So this recipe was really easy, especially because I took the easy way out by using store-bought pie crust. (I promise I’ll make pie crust from scratch one day!) All I did really was roll out the pie dough, spread it with jam, cut up the figs, sprinkle them with sugar, fold up the edges of the pie dough, and bake it.

The fig galette came out beautifully, despite not being precise or perfect. There’s a certain type of beauty that comes from rustic items. Maybe it’s the homemade feel that warms my heart.¬†The imperfections and blemishes of rustic things remind me that they were made by human hands and are labors of love. Although store-bought baked goods often taste pretty darn delicious and look absolutely gorgeous, there’s something about homemade baked goods that always makes them win over the store-bought ones (for me personally). Homemade cakes or cupcakes that look professionally made, though beautiful, are not as appealing to me as the homemade items that are more rustic looking.

This fig galette is the perfect example of the beauty of rustic, homemade baked goods. Although it has many imperfections, it’s all of those imperfections that make it even more gorgeous. (Kinda like that One Direction song, right? Haha jk). Each bump and crack in the crust is evidence of the effort and love put into making it. Knowing that little fact makes the galette just a bit more beautiful because it shows the care that the person who baked it has for you. Aww how sweet! (Sorry for this bit of cheesiness, I guess I’m feeling a bit sentimental right now :P).

The natural sweetness of the figs and the buttery crust pair well with a cup of hot tea whether you’re eating the galette in the morning or at night. It’s the perfect way to finish off a nice dinner with family or friends – I can imagine just munching on it in between sips of tea or coffee and conversations with loved ones. Or it’s the perfect indulgent breakfast to eat while standing in the kitchen, soaking in the morning sunlight and reading the paper. It’s subtle, simple actions like this that warm my heart and make me feel content with life. ūüôā

Fig Galette
Adapted from Simply Recipes

1¬†butter pie crust recipe¬†(I used store-bought pie crust from Trader Joe’s)
1 1/2 pounds mission figs, tips cut off and discarded, quartered
1/4 cup jam (I used plum amaretto jam since it was in the fridge, but use any jam you have on hand)
2 Tbsp sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Roll out dough to a 14-inch diameter round of even thickness. Place on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet.
2. Spread jam on the rolled out dough, leaving a 2-inch border along the edges. Arrange the quartered figs in a circular pattern, again leaving a 2-inch border. Sprinkle sugar over the figs.
3. Fold the 2-inch bordered edge of the crust over the figs, pleating the crust.
4. Place in the middle rack of the oven. Bake at 375F for 45-50 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned and the fruit is bubbly.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool for 30 minutes.

MIA… but for good reason

Sorry for that I’ve been MIA and not posting for most of this month! Life has gotten a little bit busier and I’ve been going through a few significant life changes. Don’t worry, nothing bad or traumatic. Some recent experiences have forced me to sit down and deeply think about my beliefs, who I actually want to be, and how I want to live my life. This self-reflection has been a bit difficult since I’m realizing the person who I actually want to be is fairly different than the person that I thought I wanted to be. But I am actually really enjoying this self-discovery. It’s made me feel much more confident in what I believe in. Not only have I become a stronger person, but also my friendships with certain people have strengthened and I’ve realized who I can really count on and who supports me.

Even with all these life changes going on, I’ve still been baking up a storm. Here’s a little preview of recipes to come!

Fig galette (made with fresh figs from my aunt’s tree)

Momofuku’s Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies (finally tackled a Momofuku recipe!)

Blackberry Slump

How do you get rid of green onions? Make Green Onion Sesame Rolls!

Sweet and Simple – Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Another installment of the birthday cake series! Like I mentioned previously, my class has a tradition of celebrating each other’s birthday with birthday cake. For another classmate’s birthday, I decided to make carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. A classic cake that everyone loves… unless you’re allergic to carrots or walnuts, I suppose. Luckily, no one in our class is, although one guy is allergic to hazelnuts, which means any nutella ideas are out :(.

Since carrot cake is such a traditional cake that everyone is familiar with, I knew I had to get it right, from the flavors to the decorations. Although the cake is straightforward, it does require a bit of work, specifically in grating carrots. Luckily, I live with housemates who are always willing to lend a hand. One of them (actually her boyfriend) grated all the carrots while another made the cream cheese frosting. With all this help, all I had to do was bake the cakes, assemble them, and decorate (the funnest part!).

I chose a classic design for the cake with piping along the outer edge of the cake and crushed walnuts coating the sides. Clean and simple is sometimes the best way to go. A lot of times I try make things more complicated than they need to be, but as I grow older, I realize that simplicity is oftentimes the better solution (and saves you a lot of¬†unnecessary¬†stress).¬†Even though complex and crazy recipes are more intriguing and exotic, they aren’t always the best. I’m an avid follower of Top Chef and a lot of times, the chefs get knocked for trying dishes that are too complicated and not executing them well.

Doing something a little simpler, and doing it well will usually earn you more points than doing something complex not very well. The same thing applies to life. As I’m growing older (and wiser, hopefully), I’ve realized that prioritizing one’s life is extremely important. There’s no way someone can have their hands in so many pots and juggle so many things (well, there are a few people I know who can do that and they are absolutely amazing). It’s much better to choose a few things that you love to do and do them well than to try to be involved in many things and not do the best job you can. Sometimes simplicity is the sweetest, just like this carrot cake.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from this recipe

For the cake:
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts

For the frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts (for decoration)

1. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
2. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
3. Stir in carrots and fold in pecans.
4. Pour batter into two 9 in. cake pans (greased and lined with parchment paper).
5. Bake at 350F for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
6. Let cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
7. In a medium bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla smooth and creamy.
8. Place one of the cakes onto a plate. Frost the top with 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting.
9. Place the second layer on top and frost the top with 1/4 of the cream cheese frosting.
10. Place the third layer on top and frost the whole cake with the remaining frosting.
11. Decorate as you wish and enjoy!

Savoring Happiness – Sailing in the Bay

I have a huge weakness for coupons, especially groupons. For some reason, whenever I see a cool groupon, I always end up buying it. I’ve gotten a lot better now and have reduced my spending. But I’m also really bad at using groupons and always rush to use them before the expiration date. After I had decided to attend UC Berkeley for grad school, I was so excited about living in the Bay Area that ¬†I bought a groupon for a sailing cruise, several months¬†before I had even arrived in Berkeley.

However, I never used it my whole first year in Berkeley… until a few weeks ago when I realized the expiration date was quickly approaching. Luckily, it was easy for me to reserve spots for me and my friends on a Champagne Brunch sailing cruise around the Bay. We departed from Pier 39 in Fisherman’s Wharf. As usual, fog was covering the Golden Gate Bridge, but lucky for us, most of the fog near the Bay Bridge had burned off already. So we got beautiful views of the East Bay and downtown San Francisco. The weather was gorgeous – sunny, but still cool – perfect Bay Area weather.¬†For the two-hour cruise, we sailed¬†under the Bay Bridge, around Treasure Island,¬†and along the Embarcadero, passing by the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf.

It was such a relaxing way to spend the late morning: laying out and soaking up the sunlight, sipping on¬†mimosas, and chatting and enjoying each other’s company.¬†As we sailed around the bay, I was once again awestruck at how beautiful San Francisco is and how much I love this city. Despite having seen the same sights so many times before, I never tire of them. Even all the touristy places that I try to avoid are still beautiful to me.

That day was another wonderful day that made me realize just how great life can be. You’ll always experience hardships and have ups and downs in life, but you just got to enjoy the amazing days that make you happy. It doesn’t matter if you’re sailing around San Francisco or eating at your favorite restaurant or just spending time with friends and family. I’ve realized that you’ve just got to savor whatever makes you happy at that moment. Those moments of happiness may be brief and fleeting, so enjoy and appreciate them while you can.